SOMERSET, NJ - On Friday, January 4th, Franklin Township residents witnessed history as Shanel Robinson was sworn in to the Somerset County Board of Chosen Freeholders. Robinson was one of two Democratic leaders elected to the Board in 2018, ending the Board’s streak of Republican-only leadership that had existed since the 1980s.
When asked why she initially wanted to run for the Board of Chosen Freeholders, Robinson explained that she wanted to be “a lens view for the people”.
“I'm just naturally a servant leader,” Robinson said. “I felt that my experience serving in the military, serving my community - whether it's with the athletic community within the school or the community within the church of which I was a member – and just being there and actually lending a helping hand wherever needed, that was lacking on both sides of government at all levels. After being involved and engaged for about five or six years in the background, I knew that I could do just as good of a job as those who were in office at the time, if not better.”
And this political will was swiftly put to test during her campaign trail. In addition to balancing her jobs as an IT Manager at Saint Peter’s Healthcare System and as a hands-on Grandmother, Robinson was met with a number of physical challenges in the months leading up to the election. She was faced with a totaled car, a torn meniscus, and a two-month displacement from her home due to water damage. Her resilience and composure in the wake of these challenges spoke to her prioritization of the people she took oath to serve.
However, for those who had worked with Robinson in the past, her relentless commitment to the community was no surprise. Prior to her election as Freeholder, Robinson held the position of Franklin Township Councilwoman at large for three years. In this position she worked on improving the transparency of the Council as well as the quality of life for Franklin residents. Some of her most notable work included the creation of initiatives to support Hurricane Harvey victims and resolutions to ensure a discounted water rate for active duty military during deployment.
Her final year with the Council was spent as Deputy Mayor, a role she was appointed to by her fellow Council members.
“I wasn't expecting [to be named Deputy Mayor],” Robinson said. “It had only been three years in, and that’s really not that long for someone in government to rise to a higher office so quickly. But I'm not in it for any popularity game. I want to be able to plug in and fill in any gaps where we may be lacking.”
In her 16 years in Franklin’s civic life, Robinson has found great value in facilitating open communication and community dialogue. For this reason, she has been described by Mayor Phil Kramer as “the glue”.
“People may be on one side versus the other, but I’m the one who kind of helps to pull it all together,” Robinson said.
The great respect and admiration for Robinson held by her peers and her community was exemplified at a recent Council meeting, where she was awarded a Commendation by the Council for her years of service with them.
In her new role as Freeholder, Robinson says she hopes to continue being the “transparent, visible, responsive” type of leader that she was as a Councilwoman. One of her primary goals is to help educate all 21 municipalities about what a freeholder is and what a freeholder does.
“We’re working with the residents’ tax dollars,” Robinson said. “Why shouldn't we be open and transparent about the services that we provide? Half the people don't even know the services that are provided through the county and by the county, and I think the county could do a better job."
Specifically, Robinson wishes to help promote the county’s veteran, youth, senior, and other human services to make them more accessible to community members in need.
Beyond Somerset County, Robinson joins a record number of female and minority leaders elected and sworn into all levels of government in the 2018 midterm elections. While she says she is excited to be a part of what is considered by some to be “The Year of the Woman”, Robinson humbly states that this was by no means her purpose of running.
“I want people to get back to being able to trust government and actually having an active role in what government is, what government does, and that lens view of what government looks like,” she said.
For Robinson, the most important thing for politicians to remember in this political climate is simple: people before politics.
“I tend to lead and meet people where they are, and my role as an elected official is not to determine whether somebody is a Republican or Democrat,” Robinson said. “My role is to help facilitate the needs that people bring to me based on whatever role or level that I am at and it does not matter whether you're Democrat or Republican, you are a resident of the county.”
To hear more from Freeholder Robinson and the Board of Chosen Freeholders, you can follow her Facebook page or tune in to the Freeholders’ meetings at 6:30pm on the second and fourth Tuesday of every month, which will now be streamed or televised for the public.
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